The April 6 meeting of Pashinyan and Aliyev in Brussels: What next

Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan, European Council President Charles Michel and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in Brussels (RA Government, April 6)

On April 6, 2022, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev held a meeting in Brussels mediated by the President of the European Council, Charles Michel. It was the second meeting in Brussels mediated by the European Union. The first took place in December 2021; on February 4, 2022, Armenian and Azerbaijan leaders held an online meeting with the participation of Michel and French President Emmanuel Macron. A week before the April 6 meeting, the EU hosted a meeting of high-level officials from Armenia and Azerbaijan in Brussels to advance joint efforts to find solutions to issues between both countries. The meeting between Secretary of the Security Council of Armenia Armen Grigoryan and assistant to the President of Azerbaijan Hikmet Hajiyev was facilitated by the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Toivo Klaar. As a result of the April 6 meeting, Pashinyan and Aliyev agreed to instruct their Ministers of Foreign Affairs to work on the preparation of a future peace treaty, which would address all necessary issues. 

Meanwhile, in line with the Sochi statement of November 26, 2021, it was also agreed to convene a Joint Border Commission by the end of April. The mandate of the Joint Border Commission will be to delimit the bilateral border between Armenia and Azerbaijan and ensure a stable security situation along, and in the vicinity of, the borderline.

The meeting in Brussels was another step to establish a separate track of Armenia–Azerbaijan negotiations through EU mediation along with the Russia–Armenia–Azerbaijan trilateral format. However, both formats have the same goal: to stabilize the situation in the region after the 2020 Karabakh war. The West was not happy to be entirely sidelined during the signature of the November 10, 2020 statement and looked for ways to re-establish itself in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement. The war in Ukraine and the complete rupture of Russia–West relations made any joint actions by Russia and the West extremely unlikely on any issues, including Nagorno Karabakh. However, as both sides seek the stabilization of the situation, we may assume that these separate tracks will reinforce each other rather than create obstacles. It should be noted that before the April 6 meeting, the Russian President held phone talks with Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders. Pashinyan and Aliyev provided details of the meeting to President Putin during phone talks after April 6. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov fully endorsed the delimitation and demarcation of the Armenia–Azerbaijan border and the signature of a peace treaty between the two countries during an April 8 meeting with his Armenian counterpart in Moscow.

Meanwhile, the April 6 meeting was not the only important news on the Nagorno Karabakh settlement process in the previous week. During the joint press conference with his Armenian counterpart, Lavrov stated that the US and France were unwilling to work with Russia within the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmanship format. Of course, the Minsk Group comprises 11 states, and the de facto dissolution of co-chairmanship does not legally mean the dissolution of the group itself. However, given the fact that since 1997, co-chairs have been at the center stage of the negotiation process, facilitating meetings and providing different ideas on the settlement of the conflict, it is challenging to perceive any meaningful activities of the Minsk Group without co-chairs.

What may these events mean for the future of Nagorno Karabakh? The April 6 statement has no word about Nagorno Karabakh while emphasizing the necessity to normalize Armenia–Azerbaijan relations. In early March 2022, Azerbaijan provided Armenia with five principles of the future peace treaty, emphasizing mutual recognition of territorial integrity and no mention of the future of Karabakh. Armenia accepted those principles but stated that the rights and security of Armenians living in Karabakh and the status of Karabakh should be discussed. However, the Armenian government stopped saying that it would not accept any status for Nagorno Karabakh within Azerbaijan, which Azerbaijani experts explain as Armenia’s readiness to accept autonomy for Karabakh within Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan continues its policy of putting economic, military and psychological pressure on Nagorno Karabakh Armenians, seeking to force them out. 

Armenia and Azerbaijan are close to starting peace negotiations and launching the bilateral delimitation/demarcation commission. As the OSCE Minsk Group de facto has stopped its activities, the Armenian government needs to send clear signals to Nagorno Karabakh Armenians that during the upcoming negotiations, it will not accept any idea of even the highest-level autonomy of Karabakh within Azerbaijan as a compromise solution. Meanwhile, discussions should be continued with France and the US, asking them to send a message to Azerbaijan that those countries will not tolerate Azerbaijan’s policy of forcing Armenians out of Nagorno Karabakh and that it will be costly for Azerbaijan if it continues to pursue that. Simultaneously, close coordination is needed with Russia to secure Armenian population security in Nagorno Karabakh, given the deployment of Russian peacekeepers there. In this context, the accusations against peacekeepers and calls to launch investigations against their actions/inactions will not contribute to that process. 

Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan
Dr. Benyamin Poghosyan is the founder and chairman of the Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies. He was the former vice president for research – head of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense Research University in Armenia. In March 2009, he joined the Institute for National Strategic Studies as a research Fellow and was appointed as INSS Deputy Director for research in November 2010. Dr. Poghosyan has prepared and managed the elaboration of more than 100 policy papers which were presented to the political-military leadership of Armenia, including the president, the prime minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Dr. Poghosyan has participated in more than 50 international conferences and workshops on regional and international security dynamics. His research focuses on the geopolitics of the South Caucasus and the Middle East, US – Russian relations and their implications for the region, as well as the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. He is the author of more than 200 academic papers and articles in different leading Armenian and international journals. In 2013, Dr. Poghosyan was a Distinguished Research Fellow at the US National Defense University College of International Security Affairs. He is a graduate from the US State Department Study of the US Institutes for Scholars 2012 Program on US National Security Policy Making. He holds a PhD in history and is a graduate from the 2006 Tavitian Program on International Relations at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

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